Chavez, elected president in 1998 after leading an unsuccessful military coup in 1992 and supporting another coup later the same year, won public support despite initial voter skepticism by offering -- you guessed it -- freebies. As noted by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal shortly after Chavez was elected: "In a very hard year due to economic troubles, low oil prices, a prevailing anti-political trend and loss of prestige of political parties, (Chavez) managed to go up in the polls. He climbed little by little and his speech filled with promises won followers, particularly the downtrodden."
The winning formula for a presidential election in Venezuela consists of various permutations of the following elements: (1) emotional manipulation; (2) retroactively co-opting as a socialist Latin American independence leader Simon Bolivar, who died 184 years ago; and (3) free stuff. What could possibly defeat that? Logic and realism?
There's still hope, however. Maybe the Chinese can bail out Venezuela with some foreign investments and joint ventures, since they're swimming in cash. That tends to happen when your domestic workforce will produce for next to nothing. (Bonus: The friction that's sure to result when Venezuelan union activists encounter Chinese labor standards could prove highly entertaining to the rest of us.)
Even in the absence of direct intervention, the situation in Venezuela is still likely to become America's problem, one way or another. After chronically voting for presidential-freebie candidates, the next step for many Venezuelans will be to bail out of the country now that socialism has proven to be an abysmal failure, again. Venezuelan immigration to the United States had already risen dramatically during the Chavez presidency, and now that it's become a struggle to obtain basic necessities, we're likely to see an even larger wave of Venezuelan immigrants.
One can only hope that they and other new Americans have checked any socialist delusions at the point of entry into America -- although Hispanic support for America's own freebie candidate, President Barack Obama, in two consecutive elections strongly suggests otherwise.